EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: “Intra-state strategic competition [with Russia and China], not terrorism, is the primary concern of US national security,” posits the DOD 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS). But how justified is this focus shift from the ongoing fight against Islamist terrorism? And can Moscow and Beijing’s interest in defeating this common enemy be harnessed to this fight? Exploring President Reagan’s policies to terrorism and intra-state competition can provide some useful clues.
With the destruction of the ISIS caliphate in Syria and Iraq, the US and its allies won an important battle, but not the global war. Many ISIS survivors have deployed elsewhere – from Yemen, to Sinai, to Libya – while the vacuum left by the organization’s downfall is being rapidly filled by al-Qaeda and its affiliates. In Afghanistan, the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations control some 70 percent of the country’s territory, hardly the consolidation of US “gains in Afghanistan” claimed by the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS).